Japanese maple foliage

When I got home from teaching today, J was standing at the kitchen counter, working at his laptop. “The tree out front is on fire,” he said, and I immediately knew what he was referring to.

Arborvitae, oak, maple

In one corner of our front yard, we have a Japanese maple that is perfectly lovely all year round, its lacy green leaves veined with red. But every autumn—and seemingly overnight—this perfectly lovely tree erupts into brilliant blood-red foliage that seems to carry its own inner illumination, as if someone had flipped it on with a switch. Forget about walking the earth in search of Annie Dillard’s tree with the lights in it: all you need as proof of a benevolent Universe is one glimpse of a Japanese maple on fire.

Japanese maple

When the Japanese maple in our front yard is “on,” it seems to emit its own light, like a red lantern. Rationally I know the crimson glow that filters through the window and seeps between the blind-slats is sunlight diffused through countless red leaves, but part of me expects to see a power cord stretched from tree trunk to electrical outlet to power a tree as bright and radiant as a neon tube.

When I walk into my soothing green-tiled bathroom on Fire Days, I can see the maple-glow before I see the tree itself outside my window. As I sit here writing these pages in front-facing bedroom, the white walls are tinted with a blush of red, and the forest-green blinds seem entirely incapable of keeping red out, for it flames and trickles between every slat.

Japanese maple samaras

When I came home from teaching today, J was there in the kitchen to inform me the tree out front was on fire, a camera sitting on the counter beside him. Fire Day is a regular fixture of every autumn: we haven’t had an autumn yet where the Japanese maple in our front yard hasn’t brilliantly turned. But Fire Day is a fleeting festival: soon enough the leaves that are lit today will lose their electricity, their power fading until they crumple and blow away. If you want pictures of a tree on fire, you have to move fast before the brisk breeze quenches its light and extinguishes its flame for another year.

This is my Day 4 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.